NAACP At-Large City Council Forum – October 18

If you’re reading this, it’s because you didn’t attend tonight’s candidate forum.

Don’t worry, there are still six (!!!) more you can attend!


The NAACP will hold another forum next Wednesday, October 25th, at 6:00 PM at the Worcester Youth Center.  Tonight’s forum was great; there were three young people asking questions and keeping time.  We need more of that!  Come on down and support it!

2 / 3/ 4:

The Research Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Telegram & Gazette and Mechanics Hall are presenting the following forums at Mechanics Hall at 7:00 PM.  Not only will you get to hear candidates’ views on the issues, you will also be able to check out Tim McGourthy’s wonderful new beard!

Thursday, October 19th—District Council Candidates
Monday, October 23rd—Mayoral Candidates
Monday, October 30th—At-Large Council Candidates
Worcester State University’s Latino Education Institute and the Department of Urban Studies will have a School Committee Forum (Community and Schools Forum) on Wednesday, October 25th, from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM at WSU’s Fuller Theatre (2nd Floor of the Administration Building, 486 Chandler Street).  Yes, this conflicts with the NAACP City Council Forum; I will attend the NAACP forum and Tracy will cover this one!
The Worcester Educational Collaborative will be holding a School Committee Forum at the Worcester Historical Museum on Monday, October 30 from 5:30 PM – 8 PM.  I will try to hit this before going to the Research Bureau At-Large Forum.
…and, with no further ado, here are my notes from tonight’s NAACP (et al.) At-Large City Council Forum…


Candidates: Rosen, Bergman, King, Petty, Straight, Toomey (no Lukes)

40 people in attendance

Bill Coleman in attendance.

Fred Taylor, NAACP, welcomes the attendees.

Sponsors: Greater Worcester Our Revolution, League of Women Voters, Carpenters Union Local 107, Main South CDC, RE/MAX Vision, Southeast Asian Coalition, New England Pride TV, SURJ, Worcester Common Ground, Worcester Community Labor Coalition, Worcester State University, YWCA

Taylor thanks Pat Yancey, Chris Crowley, Edward Robinson, Sam Martin of Youth Center


2 mins to respond to questions

3 min closing statement


Q1 from LWV – how are we doing with inclusion of diverse groups in government and leadership roles?  How can we improve?

Rosen – City Councilor for beautiful district 5, where the Youth Center is located.  Used to be at-large councilor, and only one who has served as both.  He grew up in Worcester, when he went to Chandler Junior High, he took civics education.  We need civics education in middle and high school for all students.  Many young people don’t know or care that there is an election coming up.  Important for service to community at a young age.  Difficult to get people interested at an older age, need to whet appetite at a young age.  Be positive, have a positive message.  The people who are appointed and elected officials must serve as role models for youth.

Bergman – complicated question, depends on how you define diversity.  Racial or ethnic – long way to go.  There are 4 women on the Council, 2 people from minority religion, 2 of color.  Boards and commissions are becoming more diverse.  How many people are running and not being elected?  Easy to say no a lot of diversity on the Council, but if folks are not being elected, could be due to info we don’t have.  [that’s a paraphrase]  Need diverse/immigrant communities to be involved in government.  We need to know more about why people from diverse backgrounds are not being elected.

King: first generation American, family came here from Bermuda.  Current City Council the most diverse one the city has ever had, women, he’s the first black male elected since 1936, first black male at-large City Councilor.  Bill Coleman here tonight, his face resonated with him when he’d see Coleman in the paper when King was in high school.  His daughter is becoming a social worker, he has been social worker for number of years.  Boards and commissions should be more diverse.  Mayor has civics academy, he has participated in it.  Voter registration drives at schools for our seniors.  These are important, to remind youth that it’s their civic duty to participate in community.

Petty: We’ve come a long way since the community meetings two years ago.  In the last year, we’ve seen highest-ranked Puerto Rican and African American in the WPD.  There is diversity in the City Manager’s office.  Advisory boards, taken conscious decision to select people who represent everyone in the city.  Graduating police class was a good mix of people.  We’ve come a long way and have a ways to go.

Straight: First time running for anything and one of the reasons he got involved is that people should be focusing on diversity.  Mr Gaffney needed to be stood up to, felt it could be his contribution.  City Councilors can set a tone that is inviting and lets people know that diversity is one of the city’s major strengths.  Hiring practices, chief diversity officer, increasing minorities on the police force.  Encouraging participation on school and collegiate level.

Toomey: has been fortunate to be a city councilor for 6 terms, before that one the school committee for 3 terms.  Understanding of the diverse school population helped when she joined the city council.  How do you reach folks where they are?  Government has worked hard on this for the past few years.  We have to reach out to people in person.  Those who have come from other countries may not be trusting of government.  Using technology trying to get a lot of people to overcome challenges.  Diversity office has helped with training and job applications.  We need to advocate for IR folks.

Q2 to Moe Bergman, from Main South CDC: do you think that the city has moved too far in terms of downtown development (federal funding).  60% of residents qualify for affordable housing.  (more to the question, didn’t catch it)

Bergman: who will lose out with downtown development?  Everyone who needs a place to live should have a place to live.  We should encourage people to buy properties, including outside downtown.  When you see evictions, it traumatized esp. children.  Albany has a program to give vouchers for folks who are buying houses, which causes more stable neighborhoods.  Not everyone can afford or do it.  Used to be the American dream to own a home, should still be.  Better neighborhoods, happier residents…

King: proud that he has filed motion on the floor requesting that manager have master plan that includes neighborhoods, esp Main South.  Need to be comprehensive in what we do.  Everyone deserves place at the table downtown.  We should be able to keep existing local businesses downtown in the midst of the development.  Times are hard, currently minimum wage is $11; supports increasing to $15 by 2021.  WRT renting an apartment, need $22/hr to rent an apartment.  Need to continue these conversations on the Council floor.

Petty: downtown projects have made a difference, they are mixed housing projects.  Not just luxury apartments.  His commitment to funding neighborhoods is important.  Main South CDC did a great job transforming the neighborhood.  Bellevue Street – when you see the houses, encourages the neighbors.  (paraphrase)  affordable housing could mean anything these days.  Important that we have people who feel welcome in these neighborhoods.  Federal funding should be focused on neighborhoods in the future.

Straight: spread development out into the neighborhoods, esp Main South and neighborhoods surrounding downtown.  Short-term tax incentives for the neighborhoods.  To build on vacant lots, renovate vacant buildings.  Increase % of affordable housing to 20% in the next 10 years.  (Currently 14-16%), supports $15 minimum wage.

Toomey: balance – pendulum may feel like it’s swung towards the downtown, some of the success there due to what is happening in the neighborhoods.  We need to be creative, workforce housing = affordable housing.  Lots of different projects/programs that can help people.  Not all 3 deckers are being rented out.  Be creative to have people rent to own the properties, similar program Cleveland Housing Network that allows renters to purchase property at discount after renting 15 years.

Rosen: great cities have great downtowns.  He used to get on the bus, had to stand up because the buses were so packed, to go downtown before the mall.  It was always everyone’s downtown.  Attention not at the expense of the neighborhoods, do have to work on our downtown.  Very little retail, two longterm businesses recently closed.  Rejects dichotomy, must support all neighborhoods.  Downtown is a neighborhood too.  Mentions that it needs a supermarket.  So much happening in district 5, airport with flights to NY and Baltimore coming soon, communications center, dog parks, Doherty High, South High.  Neighborhoods are strong, (going waaaay over his limit)

Q3, to King, from Worcester Common Ground: how should the city prioritize funding, construction, and support of affordable housing initiatives to accommodate growing demand for these resources?

King: community development is economic development.  Affordable housing, remember that we have a delegation on state level and federal partners that we need to engage with.  This is what has helped Worcester move forward.  Continue to engage with them on behalf of the city.  Each of us as councilors is one vote.  He knows how to bring forward and establish relationships and try to reach a common goal.  Listening, learning, and then leading – will always be a priority, to put children and families first.

Petty: Block grant funding, much is devoted to housing.  There are public hearings, federal and state $ available.  A lot of $ at Union Hill to make neighborhood safer, community policing, infrastructure and police helped turn neighborhood around.  Not just about housing, about the other investments.

Straight: increase of affordable housing to 20% mark.  Short-term tax incentives to affordable housing would spur development, mentions Richmond VA model.  This can have private developers do a lot of work without community block grant funding.

Toomey: look at data, talk to people about needs.  Look at transportation.  Should we be reinvigorating neighborhoods that don’t have transportation?  Build homes for people who can work in the jobs of the future.  For community to build/thrive/grow.  Just building low income housing doesn’t work for her, need to have people in a neighborhood working together.

Rosen: Don’t think any of us have a monopoly of knowledge about affordable housing.  If elected to at-large position, wants to sit with Worcester Common Ground and Main South CDC to get an education.  Those are the people who should advocate and educate city officials about this topic.  Willing to learn.  Six seats on City Council at-large, down to seven candidates.  That’s a big problem.  School Committee has seven candidates for six seats.  We have one more candidate than seat.  Is that because we’re doing a great job, or because people aren’t going to put themselves through it due to blogs?  Thinks there should be term limits put into charter so we can encourage more people to run for office.

Bergman: detour on answer – some of the responsibility is on the state.  No carrot and no stick for the 10% threshold, all the communities around us have 2-3% affordable housing, unfair for gateway cities like Worcester to be the only ones to be providing affordable housing, urban centers take on more than their share.  Gentrification should not force people out of downtowns.  Carriage houses in older neighborhoods could be rented out, a lot of foreclosures.  But goes back to his point that the state should reward and punish those communities above/below the 10% affordable housing threshold.

Q4, from Southeast Asian Coalition: do you support funding to grassroots organizations that have been cost-effective, successful in helping communities?  (Longer question…couldn’t get it all)

Petty: Yes.  Important that neighborhood groups that are cost-effective, some of the arms of the community (name-checks Ron Charette), just feeding people.  All orgs throughout the city introduce newcomers to the city.

Straight: Yes, supports facilitating collaboration between the two organizations.

Toomey: Absolutely, concurs with colleagues and challenger.  If there are certain agencies with expertise, share knowledge.  Boston’s Irish Immigration Center, Worcester’s Centro helps folks from different backgrounds.  Different cultural orgs help folks not of their culture.  Duplication of services sometimes gets in the way of providing things.

Rosen: Yes.  Perfect use of block grant monies.  Board takes a look at the funding and reviews applications and tries to recommend to City Council how to dole out the money.  Encourage agencies to apply, etc.  Problem is that the funding from federal gov’t has gone way down, fear with Trump administration is that it will disappear.  Incumbent upon us to talk to senators and congressman, administration, to release funds.  Without those funds, we can have tensions between organizations.

Bergman: layup question, who wouldn’t support organizations that support the communities they know best?  Moral support from councilors, attending church events, it’s the only time they get treated well.  As we try to get diverse communities to feel like they belong, give them financial AND moral support.

King: question that speaks to family matters.  If there is instability in healthcare, education, housing, employment, impacts kids.  Speaks in regards diversity in committee, including CDBG.  Starts with the public pushing elected officials and holding them accountable.

Q5, from Worcester State University: what kind of initiatives would you promote to expand rights of LGBT community?

Straight: something fundamental to country is that everybody is created equal, deserves human rights.  City Council sets a tone, everyone should have voice at table.  Maddening when you see a public figure talking down to groups of people, or jokes made by president, disheartening to see a group singled out for discrimination.

Toomey: the word “fundamental” came to her mind.  Fundamental right to be seen as a human being.  Important that we understand that we live in a hateful community right now.  People are very cruel to each other.  Things people say to one another are horrific.  Saw post from someone she knows who was accosted by a security guard.  First thing – say that it is not ok to treat someone with hate.  Ensure that we stand up for our principles in public.  Worcester is one of the best places for LGBT people to live.  But we need to be more accepting.

Rosen: goes back to our youth.  Make it known to the youth (a little tougher with adults) message has to be that equality and rights do not depend on anyone’s sexual orientation.  Around country there are clubs at schools, give students a chance to get together, very important.  Message is equality and rights for all.

Bergman: federal, state, and local levels have laws in place to protect LGBT, question is enforcement of laws, done well at city hall.  Children are much better at dealing with diverse communities, folks his age and older didn’t grow up with exposure, need better effort on middle-aged people and up.  Senior Center fertile ground for educating older folks.

King: pleased that colleagues are all on the same page.  Proud to stand with Mayor Petty on conversion therapy ban [FINALLY – someone mentioned it!!!].  It’s abusive.  This is something we’ve actually done.  As allies, need to remember that we are all members of a heteronormative culture, privileged culture, we don’t worry that we will be treated differently because of our sexual orientation.  We need to keep that in mind.  Number of churches that have rallied around these communities.  Proud to march in Pride Parade, public stance will resonate.

Petty: have come a long way in LGBTQ (I could go on).  We’ve risen in the index, conversion therapy ban passed.  We had a Q festival, 5 nights of film, asked them why they came.  Worcester has a welcoming reputation, don’t go anywhere that doesn’t have 100% on the index.  This drives economic development as well.  Transgender issues in WPS, meet these kids, it’s an eye-opener when young people going through emotional turmoil.  Community support can make a big difference in their lives.

(Dante Comparetto recognized for attending)

Q6, from Worcester Youth Center: how would you make sure youth have a voice in this community?

Toomey: one of the things we need to do is show up when you ask us to.  Has three children who attended magnet school program, learned that we need to engage and be here.  Loves to meet with kids, esp at sporting events, about how to make Worcester better.  She is active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.  Happy to meet you for breakfast on Saturday morning.  Her office hours have been geared towards adults, but she can have them here, for the youth.

Rosen: from teaching days, so many youth think adults, teachers, elected officials, don’t listen.  Certainly time to listen and let youth know we are ready to listen.  We may not be back here for another two years.  He thought that there was going to be a lot of youth here tonight, but not a lot. They are not engaged in civics/gov’t/politics.  Go to schools, invite/welcome/encourage/cajole/twist arms. In two years, hopes to see a lot more youth in this audience.  Turns question back to the audience, responsibility as city, what can we all do to fill seats with youth?

Bergman: how would you make sure youth want to have a voice?  Electeds should be models of respect, civics education.  Veterans Day parade, on a day off, WWII vets, there are so few people who show up.  Heartbreaking.  Need to do better job in correcting it.  Young people deserve to see veterans and vice versa.

King: over 20 years serving youth in the city.  We always need to listen, validate youth, and then we can lead from them.  Explain to youth tangibles.  How do we get new parks, how do new schools get build, how do youth programs happen.  Show them tangibly what’s going on.  Council, School Committee, should be doing this.  Candidates during campaigns should be inclusive of youth.  He is a father of 3 daughters, 21, 12, youngest turn 1 on Nov 2.  Will do anything he can because he has lifelong commitment to this population.

Petty: kids today are the brightest kids ever.  Hired 300 youth this past summer, youth leadership program sponsored by United Way and Chamber of Commerce to develop leadership.  If Youth Center wants more involvement, they can involve the city.  This is your government.

Straight: going last is almost as bad as going first.  Mayor’s Civics Academy is great.  Programs for at-risk youth should be expanded.  King mentioned civic days of interaction with youth.  Toomey talked about participation via social media.  Good things going on, but could always do more.

Q7, from Worcester NAACP: redlining is practice of denying services to community based on race or ethnic background.  Mention of Providence case.  How can we make sure practice does not return to Worcester?

Rosen: doesn’t have the wisdom of Solomon.  He wouldn’t deny services to anyone based on (race, religion, section of the city, sexual orientation, etc). Knows fellow councilors – hasn’t seen it from elected and appointed officials.  Doesn’t think this is something anyone is interested in promoting.  If he saw it, he would speak out against it.  Make sure it stopped.

Bergman: one of the ways we prevent is that local/state/fed law enforcement are engaged and aware.  Dialog two years ago was helpful.  When you elect someone, you should feel they should respond.  All of us here are of that character.  Character does matter.  In his four years as councilor, when issues come up, we go to bat for that person.  Being vigilant and of good character can help prevent, if they do happen, need to be addressed quickly.

King: when dealing with issues of systemic racism, need to be brave enough to name it.  We need to be able to have conversations on Council floor respectfully.  Proud to have good relationship with attorney general’s office and to be able to reach out in cases of racism. (sorry, had to step away for 30 seconds; you get the idea)

Petty: homeownership is important, redlining is in the past, make sure that banks/mortgage companies are aware and are not engaging.  Lucky to live in MA where there is no question of the right to vote.  NACA gives unconventional loans to people.

Straight: similar story, friend sent a white friend to a bank, the interest rate was lower than the black friend’s rate.  This is something that still happens. Doesn’t think this is a tough question.  If this happens, needs to be reported.  AG has a hotline for everything.  Increase reporting and awareness will help solve the issue.

Toomey: issue is denying services – predatory practices for lending.  Can look at it in all different lights.  Is transportation being provided to all neighborhoods?  Cable companies avoiding neighborhoods?  Housing, rents.  Shares a story about a friend.  Not what this country is about. Need to know that it does/can happen.  Government’s role is to make sure these things don’t happen, and for community to let elected officials know when it does happen.

Closing remarks – I will type if anything comes up of interest.

Gary Rosen: take your six votes, vote for the group at the table.  This group will do very well by you.

[note that Lukes did not attend this forum]

Now that he’s getting older, getting towards the end of the political line, he’s running at large.

Bergman: he knows people joke about all the lawyers on the Council, but being a lawyer has been a great impact on his life.  Go to housing court on the second floor of the courthouse on Thursday afternoon and see how it affects people’s lives.  When people on the Council reflect the values of the people of the city, that’s democracy.

King: will fight any attempts to diminish the Fair Housing Act in any shape or fashion.  A lot of movements and moments at state and local level.  Difference between a moment and a movement, and that’s sacrifice.  There are times to take a stand when it results in a political hit.  But that’s how you keep a movement going.

Petty: worked hard to build bridges and not walls.  we need to share successes with everyone in the community.

Straight: felt someone needed to stand up to Michael Gaffney’s reprehensible behavior.  Won’t get into it because he’s dropped out of the race (applause) – Straight says “cause for celebration”

Toomey: being of service to you is an honor to me.  Hard being in public office.  Working with people gets more done than working against.  Consensus is an incredibly important thing.  In front of her house is a sign that says “Hate Has No Home Here” – wants to make sure everyone knows that.  SHE’S NUMBER ONE ON THE BALLOT!

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